Hop aboard the food prep train

If you were to ask the average person about food prep, there would likely be two main reactions:

1. HUH?

2. Don’t you need a lot of time to do that?

Anyone on Instagram who follows fitness and nutrition will come across some form of the following in their feed:

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I’m not hating here. It’s not impossible to do food prep to this degree, but for me (1) I don’t own that much Tupperware and (2) I have disproportionately WAY more lids than containers. We suspect the dishwasher is eating them. On more than one occasion, I’ve heard my husband open the cabinet to grab a container for leftovers only to have the Jenga Tower of Orphan Lids take a kamikaze dive to the floor.

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Whether you have my Tupperware situation or not, it’s safe to say that the average woman, especially one with a career and family, struggles to find the resources – time, money, plasticware, patience – to food prep like a Master.

In fact, I seriously doubt any Food Prep Masters will read this article because they already have their ish down to a science. They know what they’re doing.

That leaves the rest of us looking for ways to get better nutrition into our bodies on a more consistent basis.

Why should I food prep?

I’m glad you asked!

Food prep simply involves setting aside some time to prepare and cook food, anywhere from one meal to several. By devoting time to this one activity, you free up time during the busiest part of your week to focus on what’s most important to you.

Think of the last time you were in rush to get things done. Maybe you had a last-minute project at work to complete, then you had to leave to get the kids and take them to a game or music lesson, and there were those two errands that have been on your to-do list since yesterday…

busymeme

With that in mind, ask yourself if you ate the next meal in alignment with your health or fat loss goals. Was it hard to make the best decision on what to cook/pick up?

Willpower, like a muscle, can get fatigued. You may start the day with a fresh mind and strong willpower, but as the day progresses and you are forced to make an umpteen number of little decisions, your willpower gradually weakens. It becomes harder for you to make good decisions, even if you logically know what the best option should be.

This is where food prep comes in. You now have a contingency plan in place that doesn’t require you to think–just to eat.

The way I approach food prep at any given time is by asking this question:

What is the ONE thing I can do to be better prepared for the coming week?

Top Tips for Food Prep

Some ideas for stepping up your food prep game:

1. Buy the food you want to eat and have it easily accessible.

It sounds very Captain Obvious. You’re probably thinking something along the lines of “Duh. I go to the grocery store all the time. I’ve survived quite nicely.”

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#buyalltheproduce

The key is buy more of the foods you are trying to add to your diet and less of the foods that don’t align with your goals. For example, I’m trying to get better at eating vegetables, as in making it a daily occurrence. If I open my fridge and veggies aren’t there for the taking, what am I going to do?

That’s right–close the fridge door and call for a pizza.

Oops.

No, I’m not going to order a pizza. (At least not today.) I’m going to find something else that is available and eat that instead.

So, for example, if eating more vegetables is a goal for you, steps to take would include:

  • Buy produce you like to eat. There’s no point in buying veggies the magazines and websites tout as superfoods if they will sit untouched and go to waste. Start with what you like, get in the habit of eating them, and then expand your palate to try veggies that pique your curiosity.
  • Chop, chop. Take a few minutes to wash and cut your produce and store it in a resealable container. It will be ready to go when you’re short on time.
  • Put the food on display. Store it in the fridge at eye level or on the counter in plain sight. Monkey see, monkey do–err, eat.
  • Be flexible with methods of preparation. You don’t have to limit yourself to only fresh whole produce. Grab the pre-cut veggie trays with a variety of dippables for a quick snack. Buy bags of frozen veggies to steam with your meals if that’s your shtick.

2. Figure out what meal or time of day is your biggest “time squeeze” and start with food prep there.

Our family’s food prep day is Sunday. That is the day we, like others, are preparing for the week ahead. We catch up on laundry, clean house, and then start the process of prepping food.

I favor the crockpot method–throw in a bunch of things, set it, and forget it for a few hours. I have things to do! My go-to recipe is beef stew: lean shoulder roast, potatoes, green beans, carrots, and spices. I make enough for at least six servings–there’s one meal (lunch or dinner) for the rest of the week.

My husband makes a double batch of beef chili on the stove as his big-batch food prep. We both used to share the chili until I connected a weird eczema flare-up to a couple of ingredients in the chili. But that’s a story for another time.

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Left: Double batch of chili in the foreground with the makings of tator tot casserole in the background. Right: chopping veggies for beef stew

The point is that we do this because our schedules during the week cause a time crunch for us at dinner time. I work until 5:00 p.m. and then train clients and/or work out afterward, which means I get home around 7:30 or 8:00 p.m. My husband runs a commercial cleaning business that puts most of his work hours in the evening.

Neither one of us is in the frame of mind to think about cooking a meal when we get home so late. Having prepped meals means we can stick them in the oven to heat through while we talk about our day, love on our dog, or catch up on our favorite Netflix show.

So ask yourself: What meal could use a little extra help with planning and food prep?

3. Pick the degree of food prep you can handle.

  • +1 While you’re cooking a meal, fix enough for an extra serving for the next day.
  • Find a crowd-pleasing recipe that scales up easily–think your favorite casseroles or pasta dishes. Craving Italian? Cook a large pan of lean ground beef, spaghetti, onions, mushrooms, and marinara sauce. Like cold salads? Prep a large container of Greek pasta salad: rotini pasta, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, red onions, olives, green peppers, feta, and red wine vinaigrette.
  • Set it and forget it. If you’re like me, bust out a Crockpot and let it do the cooking for you.
  • Grill your protein. Do you own or have access to a grill? We picked up a small George Foreman grill from our yearly family garage sale (are we the only ones who trade stuff with other family members? lol) and have surprisingly used it often. We buy a couple of packages of boneless, skinless chicken thighs and grill them all in one evening. They can be reheated later as is, chopped into chicken salad, or shredded into pasta with sauce.
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Left: the grilled twins. Right: now shredded and repurposed for pasta!

4. Buy for convenience and let someone else food prep for you.

Businesses have taken note of our constantly-in-motion lifestyles and cater to our needs. The frozen section of grocery stores are robust with heat-and-eat meals from Weight Watchers, Healthy Choice, Lean Cuisine, Kashi, Bertolli, Amy’s, and more. Even our local liquor store, Pinkie’s, stocks oven-ready casseroles and sides.

Recently I noticed islands full of prepared meals located directly in front of the H-E-B Meat Market. H-E-B Meal Simple prepared meals are chef-inspired combinations of protein, vegetables, and starches in portions for one person or a whole family. They can be heated in the oven or microwave and ready to eat in a matter of minutes. Judging by appearance they looked healthier and fresher than the average frozen dinner, so I may have to drop some money to try a dish or two.

While prepared meals like these may cost more than if you bought and prepared the food yourself, they may save you in time and convenience. Another local business that carries prepared meals is Evolution Meal Prep. I’ve purchased breakfast meals from them because, like dinner, I often don’t have the time to both make and eat breakfast. (What can I say, I like my sleep. Late nights necessitate it.)

Disclaimer: I’m not affiliated with H-E-B or Evolution Meal Prep. I’m speaking strictly from personal experience.

My workaround is to spend money on breakfast meals instead of doing food prep. Sure, I could plan to food prep some breakfast items, and I have in the past. I don’t pressure myself to be perfect with my food prep; it will fluctuate to fit the time I have available. Some weeks I do more food prep. Some weeks I do less.

Not perfect, just better.

What matters ultimately is that food prep should serve a greater purpose of helping you do “just a little bit better.” You can get closer to success meal by meal, choice by choice, habit by habit.

If you try any of the tips, please let me know how it goes. I’d love to hear your stories!

Featured image by Emily

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